Update for supporters

It’s been revealed that Spanish security company UC Global SL was spying on Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy from December 2017 on behalf of US intelligence services. Given Australia’s close intelligence relationship with the United States, was information provided to our Government about that, and if not, has the US withheld crucial information about an Australian that our Government that every Australia has a right to know?

On 29 January 2019 the officials from the Australian High Commission in London visited Assange. An excerpt from its report states:

‘On 29 January 2019, the Consul and a consular officer met with Mr Assange in his rooms in the Embassy of Ecuador. The visit lasted forty five minutes, including a tour of the areas set aside for Mr Assange’s use. The Consul and consular officer were met on arrival by Deputy Head of Mission (Rovayo Verdesoto) who conducted the tour. Rovayo Verdesoto drew our attention to various cameras throughout the rooms, noting these were for security purposes only. He demonstrated a white noise machine that has been installed in Mr Assange’s meeting room which he is able to use for private discussions with his lawyer and other visitors. Rovayo Verdesoto said that Mr Assange would tell us that all his conversations were being monitored but he stated that this was not the case. During the tour Rovayo Verdesoto pointed out that Mr Assange has a personal assistant. Rovayo Verdesoto provided his contact details and invited the Consul to contact him at any time should she wish to discuss anything. He then excused himself and left the meeting room. Mr Assange entered the meeting room, and stated he recognised both the Consul and consular officer from our previous meeting. He expressed his gratitude to Julie Bishop for approving his passport, surmising that the passport was her parting gift to him as she left her role as Foreign Minister. Mr Assange then warned the Consul and consular officer that the meeting was being monitored and recorded and that if there was any interesting news it should be written down and not verbalised. He did not choose to activate the white noise machine. Mr Assange likened his life in the embassy to the Truman show and referred to Rovayo Verdesoto as the “prison warden”. The Consul stated that the purpose of the visit was in response to a note from the Embassy of Ecuador confirming that Mr Assange has requested a consular visit. The Consul then asked if Mr Assange had any issues he would like to raise during the meeting. Mr Assange spoke at some length about the political developments in Ecuador, including the President’s offer to hand Assange over to the US in exchange for debt relief. He said that the CIA was given access to interrogate former Ecuadorians diplomats who had returned home. He stated that the President of Ecuador had agreed to extradite Mr Assange to the US.’

We don’t know whether or not consular officials followed up on Assange’s concerns about spying but on 10 April 2019 WikiLeaks reported that it had uncovered a major spying operation against Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy. Material obtained from these spying activities included video footage, photographs and a note about Assange’s defense strategy written by one of his lawyers. This material turned up in Spain, where a group threatened to make the information public unless they were paid €3 million.

Then in September news broke that Undercover Global SL, the Spanish defence and private security company that was charged with protecting the Ecuadorian embassy in London, spied on Assange for the US intelligence service. In particular it was reported that the company handed over documents, audio and video to the CIA of meetings Mr Assange held with lawyers. Mike Pompeo was head of the CIA in December 2017 when UC Global installed new video cameras in the embassy along with an external streaming access point in the same area so that all of the recordings could be accessed instantly by the United States.

Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met with Mike Pompeo in his capacity as US Secretary of State in July 2018 and then Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with him in October 2018 and again in August this year. It remains unclear whether at those meetings either of them asked about, or Pompeo disclosed, the extensive surveillance of Assange.

In response to questions about whether the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT)were aware of the arrangement between UC Global SL and US intelligence services or whether material or information had been provided to DFAT by Australian or US intelligence services since December 2017 relating to documents, audio and video obtained by UC Global SL or the CIA, the Department responded: ‘In accordance with longstanding practice, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not comment on allegations of this sort.’

There are currently two outstanding FOI requests with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for material from the Australian High Commission in London to DFAT or to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and/or her office relating to Assange covering the period 1 March 2018 to 3 May 2019. This largely covers the period during which Assange was being monitored 24 hours a day via an external streaming access point to the CIA.

DFAT has sought numerous extensions of time from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) for the production of documents. This week it sought an extension of a further 14 days for documents covering the period 1 April 2019 to 3 May 2019 and a further 30 days for documents covering the period 1 March 2018 to 31 March 2019.

The Office of Australian Information Commissioner will make its decision about whether to approve or deny the applications for the extension of time this week.

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